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Predicting the top 25 PGA Championship finishers

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KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — It used to be that picking a winner at a major championship was like trying to find the lone orange in an apple orchard.

Now? It's completely fruitless.

And yet, here I am. Still trying to suck that sweet nectar.

I'll spare you the usual rhetoric. You know, potential contenders will need to hit the ball long and straight off the tee, own perfect distance control with their irons and hole lots of putts. Unless this week's PGA Championship is contested on an XBox, it'll be impossible for a single player to prosper in all areas.

If there are a few qualities that supersede all others, they may be distance and trajectory. On a massive 7,676-yard course that will likely be soft and damp throughout the tournament, the ability to hit the ball not only long but high should be a strong determining factor.

As such, my list of this week's top-25 reflects that idea.

Sure, sure. I know: Why listen to a guy who occupies the GolfChannel.com fantasy game cellar? Well, because just as we've witnessed in majors recently, apparently everyone gets a turn at success. Maybe this will finally be the week my attempts aren't proven fruitless again. 

1. Kyle Stanley: Too young? Too raw? Too inexperienced? Could have said the same things about the last two PGA winners, too. Don't discount the Washington native's reputation as a mudder, either. That could be big.

2. Graeme McDowell: After playing in the final pairing of the final round in each of the last two majors, it would be unwise to think he can't contend again. The more the wind blows, the better his chances.

3. Dustin Johnson: No, this isn't because all 'sandy areas' at the Ocean Course won't be considered bunkers. He has the game to seriously contend and the South Carolina product should have plenty of home state support.

4. Robert Garrigus: Sensing a trend? On a big ballpark, the big hitters should thrive. And this big hitter has been raving about Kiawah being set up for his game ever since first coming here months ago.

5. Matt Kuchar: Coming off a 20-putt, three-chip-in performance Sunday at Firestone, he's in the elite category of players who can contend on any given week, no matter the course.

6. Padraig Harrington: He's healthy, his game is rounding into good shape and he's confident. If Ernie Els can win his fourth major at 42, then Harrington can certainly vie for a fourth at two years younger.

7. Nicolas Colsaerts: His emergence is similar to that of Martin Kaymer prior to this tournament two years ago. Can bomb it with the best of 'em and should be movitated by playing for his Ryder Cup life.

8. Rory McIlroy: Following last year's U.S. Open victory, it didn't seem like he'd be able to do anything quietly again, but McIlroy is playing some sneaky good golf lately without much fanfare.

9. Jason Dufner: No longer an underdog, the world's eighth-ranked player has made huge strides in the 52 weeks since nearly winning the last edition of this tournament.

10. Tiger Woods: Obviously the 14-time major champion can win anyplace, anytime. But he more often thrives on familiar venues, as evidenced by his three wins this year. Despite practice rounds, Kiawah is a great unknown.


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11. Steve Stricker: You know that scene in Happy Gilmore where the lead character says, 'Happy learned how to putt. Uh-oh.' Well, Stricker has always known, but he may have relearned a thing or two last week.

12. Louis Oosthuizen: Earning a groundswell of support as a potential 'dark horse' pick this week. All of which makes sense except the dark horse part. He's got a claret jug and nearly won a green jacket. No underdog here.

13. Adam Scott: If he's haunted by his Open Championship collapse, he hasn't shown it publicly, displaying class, grace and humility in the aftermath of such a gutwrenching conclusion.

14. Bill Haas: Just the type of player who fits the recent major champion mold, as the reigning FedEx Cup winner has triumphed on some very good golf courses.

15. John Senden: It's always befuddling why the game's best GIR guy year after year doesn't almost 'accidentally' win more events. Just hitting greens will be half the battle this week.

16. Nick Watney: Don't look now, but he's starting to emerge from what has largely been a season-long funk. If this game is cyclical – and it is – Watney may be hitting his uptick soon.

17. Bubba Watson: It would be foolish to discount the Masters champion anywhere, especially on a big course like Kiawah. His son Caleb's adoption now finalized, expect him to play with more freedom and fewer distractions.

18. Scott Piercy: The recent Canadian Open champion has been on a tear as of late. His long game should come in handy on a course that should reward distance.

19. Jonathan Byrd: It stands to reason that a few players from semi-nearby Sea Island will thrive in the local environs. Byrd's propensity for getting hot and staying hot will serve him well.

20. Lee Westwood: Hot putters come and go, but solid ball-striking is a staple – and there aren't many better tee-to-green than Westwood, still searching for that elusive major title.

21. Martin Kaymer: Often hasn't played his best golf since winning two years ago, but he's still very young and ultra-talented. He isn't done winning majors yet.

22. Webb Simpson: Hasn't teed it up much since his U.S. Open win and subsequent birth of his daughter, but his rest may win out over his rust going into this week.

23. Keegan Bradley: Upon winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, he talked about trying to go back-back and mentioned that Hall of Fame member Aunt Pat only did it once in her illustrious career.

24. Brandt Snedeker: One way to make up for an inability to bash the ball? Make lots of putts. This guy makes more than just about anyone else.

25. Aaron Baddeley: At the beginning of the year, one PGA Tour veteran said Baddeley would win a major this season. Well, he's only got one more chance to prove his peer right.